In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy

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In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy

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Category: Travel
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Part travelogue, part political snapshot – an unsentimental look at live and times in Kashmir in the late 20th early 21st century, that still manages to convey the beauty of the Valley.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Rider and Co
ISBN: 978-1846041518

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Kashmir. Is that not the most romantic of names? To those of us entranced by tales from the East, it echoes with the same essence of myth as Shang-ri-la – and for good reason. Geographically situated in the Himalaya but with the abundant fertility of the valley, lakes and meadows, it should be a kind of paradise. To the people who live there, it once was.

Like all romantic notions however, Kashmir is fragile. Lusted after and fought over for centuries, it currently struggles to survive in the firing line – or the diplomatic line, depending on the current state of affairs – between Pakistan and India.

Properly known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir and politically straddling the borders of its larger neighbours, with the might of China and threatened Tibet to its north and east, it is no wonder the idyll of the valley has long since been shattered. Equally no wonder that its people should simply wish everyone would go away and leave them alone.

Hardy's book draws on her years in the region as a journalist and the personal relationships she has established during her protracted stays in the Valley.

Although the book is sub-titled "One family's extraordinary story…" Hardy acknowledges that names have been changed, so it is possible that it is not "one family" at all that we encounter in the pages, but a conglomeration of various families and individuals. It is certain, from reading, that it is not an "extraordinary story". It is a very ordinary one. It is the life and times of the people of Kashmir. That is the tragedy of it.

Others have extolled the work as "a love story to a lost time". I'd argue that more than that, it is a love letter to the people who continue to struggle on in the hope of regaining that time, or at least, control over their own future. Hardy's respect and admiration for the people of the region shines through and takes the edge of those parts of their philosophy of life with which she holds no truck.

Hardy is not a romantic. "It began with beauty. Then it was about greed. It usually is." This is a woman who knows how the world works.

She knows that whatever the women of this region think, they are denied – or are denying themselves – the opportunities that she has had: to an education, to travel, to financial independence, to freedom. She also knows that there are times – in the refugee camps that become permanent homes – that it is often the women who hold families together.

She knows the history of the jihadis: how in their early fight against communism we ("the West") supported them and overlooked the fact that they would need something to do when they had won "our" war. The book is littered with the political history of the area: told rather than examined. Her aim is not to analyse why the global powers behave the way they do, but simply to describe the impact this has on the ordinary people trying hard to live ordinary lives.

History is not her subject, but her context.

Her subject is the personal, the everyday. She builds a whole charming and interesting chapter around the pheran (the locally ubiquitous overcloak). Another heavily focuses on sisters and their excitement over holiday photographs – in which the fact that they are heavily burqa'ed doesn't detract from conversations of the 'do-I-look-fat?' normality of any sisters. Much of the story tells of the business enterprises of the family and the rights and wrongs of sending their sons away to school. We learn that the most important item on the wish-list after the devastating earth-quake in 2005 was hot water bottles, and learn also how many lives this stalwart of English winters might have saved.

Of course as a journalist she also ventures outside the safety zone of her family and friends, into the hills, beyond the military checkpoints – sometimes openly, sometimes risking not only her own life – to bring us the wider picture. There are stories of massacres, torture and martyrdom. There are stories of hope. Everywhere the dignity and resilient endeavour of the Kashmiri ploughs on, making the best of the life they have been given.

Weaving its way through all of this is the inescapable landscape of Kashmir. One of her protagonists tells us that Everything beautiful is broken now. He is not entirely right. The place itself is as awesome as it ever was. But it is true that the tranquillity may be lost forever. If the warlords and warring states depart, they are likely to be replaced with even more rapacious tourists. The Indians that form the current backbone of the local tourism come to see and do and depart: completely missing the point of sitting and being and watching.

Kashmir will never be as it once was, but I for one support the claim for independence often voiced in the area so that the local people are free to choose what it will next become. Read this and you must surely agree.

Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: If you enjoyed this try Jane Mitchell’s story of a child soldier in the region: Chalkline

Buy In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy at Amazon.co.uk


Buy In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir's Long War - One Family's Extraordinary Story by Justine Hardy at Amazon.com.

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